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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Milk’s Words Still Ring True

Written by  Sage Piper

Will They Now Reach Scalise?

As details of the shooting on a Virginia baseball field poured in last week, it became clear that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several congressional staffers had been saved from further injury and possible death by the brave actions of his two Capital Police security detail, Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner. As news surfaced that both were African-American and that Crystal Griner was a gay woman who is married to another woman, the earth turned on its axis just a little bit. And it happened on Pride Week, to boot.

Why the cosmic jolt? Well, Representative Scalise is well known throughout the halls of Washington, D.C., and in his home state, not only for his ties to David Duke and white supremacists, but also as one of the most hard-core anti-LGBTQ politicians from the Bayou who has voted against our community time and time again. In 2008 he authored Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage and voted to amend the Constitution to define traditional marriage. Scalise also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and for protecting anti-same-sex marriage opinions as free speech. His oft-offered defense: he was trying to protect “traditional” marriage.” Scalise also supported the state definition of marriage superseding federal gay marriage, and he voted “no” on Federal anti-gay hate crimes legislation.

What kind of a man is this? Obviously one who perceives large swathes of the population to be less worthy, but also one whose high-power job comes with the protection of two Capitol Police officers. Lucky for him, Crystal Griner was one. Scalise did not know she was gay and in a same-sex union, although he had spent his career working against his officer and such unions as hers. He also did not know that the universe would put this woman who loved her wife in the position to save his own wife from unbearable heartache and tragedy.

But Crystal Griner charged into the line of fire after she had been shot, a real-life Wonder Woman in action. This at a time when we are starved for real heroes, everyday heroes who don’t draw attention to themselves in daily life. Interviews with Crystal’s family, friends, and colleagues paint a picture of a hard-working and inspiring young woman who had endured her mother’s losing battle with cancer in her teens and had remained a positive force for all who knew her. The former chief of Capitol Police recalled “an incredible amount of focus and professionalism and dedication every time I saw her regardless of what the assignment was or what she was doing.”

Had Steve Scalise realized that queer, married, and African-American actually means people like Crystal Griner, would he have acted differently as a man, as a legislator? Would he have spent all those years trying to block Crystal from marrying the woman she loves, knowing now that the life and love she receives from her wife is part of the strength which allows her to go out into the world with confidence and do her job in such a superlative way? That not living a life of fear and secrecy buried in the closet, but being able to freely marry and be respected in the community actually saved Crystal Griner from another kind of wounded life, so that she in turn would be there to save him? Would Scalise understand that she was is doing nothing to the institution of marriage but strengthening it, and honoring it? And will knowing now who saved his life bring about a change of heart, a change of action?

Pondering these questions, my mind goes straight to Harvey Milk. I have always treasured his deeply held belief in the 1970s that people would overcome their fear of gays as “different” from themselves if they knew who gay people actually were. He preached that “the most political act you can do is to come out” because he was so convinced that if people just realized how many gay people they actually know, they would comprehend their humanity as the same as, and therefore equal to, their own. Milk constantly called on gays to become known because he hoped that if people knew that were their family members, their friends, their employers and their colleagues were gay it would be the bridge to acceptance.  “Gay brothers and sisters,” he entreated, “You must come out. Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”

Then:If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” It’s been 39 years since Harvey Milk wrote those words. Too long. Can we hope that the bullet which entered Crystal Griner’s ankle as she continued to charge towards the armed gunman breaks down the door of Steve Scalises’s heart, and his mind. Isn’t it finally time?

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